Second Judge Puts IRS On The Clock To Explain Lois Lerner’s ‘Lost’ Emails Under Oath

Another Federal judge – the second in as many days – has ordered the IRS to explain how a trove of Lois Lerner’s emails was lost to an alleged hard drive crash. But instead of giving the agency 30 days to come up with the info, as a judge in a separate case did yesterday, today U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton gave the IRS one week.

Today’s order calls for the agency to spend the next week tracking down Lerner’s junked hard drive and to return for a report to the court on July 18. If the IRS comes back empty, Walton wants an IRS tech official with “firsthand knowledge” of the hard drive’s chain of custody to submit a sworn affidavit explaining why it can’t be retrieved. He also instructed the IRS to include information about the expertise and qualifications of staffers who had previously handled Lerner’s computer after its failure had originally been reported.

Walton presided today over a hearing in the case, which pits the IRS as a defendant against a lawsuit filed by Texas-based True the Vote, one of the conservative groups allegedly singled out by the IRS for political discrimination as the 2012 presidential election season unfolded.

True the Vote had asked Walton last week to authorize independent technical experts to conduct a thorough forensic examination; one that would attempt to determine the truth of the IRS’ claim that approximately two years’ worth of Lerner’s emails cannot be retrieved from any computer, anywhere.

But today’s order concerns only the guts of Lois Lerner’s work computer. It doesn’t explicitly order the IRS to give a full accounting of potential evidence lost from email servers, mobile devices, backup systems and the like. And Walton did not address today the possibility that a search for that evidence by outside experts might become a part of this case, although it is his prerogative to grant or deny that request as the case progresses.

Walton’s one-week order comes only a day after another Federal judge, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, gave the agency a 30-day deadline to produce an account of how the emails went missing, and to designate an IRS official to take an oath affirming the accuracy of that report. Sullivan’s order comes in a separate Freedom of Information lawsuit against the IRS filed by government watchdog Judicial Watch.

Here’s some background on the True the Vote lawsuit, as well as a story on yesterday’s order in the Judicial Watch case.

Bloomberg Gives Colorado Governor Hickenlooper’s GOP Opponent An Unintended Gift

Sometimes they make it easy.

Michael Bloomberg gave 2nd Amendment advocates, as well as Coloradans of every ideological persuasion, plenty to get cranky about when his uninformed and condescending remarks about the State were printed in a Rolling Stone interview the magazine erroneously posted a few days too early to its website (cached version here).

Bloomberg’s offending words? “The NRA went after two or three state senators in a part of Colorado where I don’t think there’s roads. It’s as far rural as you can get. And, yes, they lost recall elections.”

Though intended, perhaps, as an attempt to flippantly and humorously downplay the impact of voter reaction to the passage of new gun control laws in Colorado last year, Bloomberg’s comment struck locals as an insult borne of aloof, elitist ignorance concerning the real, ground-level America he wishes to improve.

Even the local TV news got in on the act, with an anchor for Colorado Springs-based KKTV retorting “we have plenty of paved roads.”

The biggest beneficiary from Bloomberg’s dorkism is probably Republican Gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez, who pounced on the remarks by offering this statement:

Michael Bloomberg’s infuriatingly ignorant remarks show how far removed he is from Colorado, and how wrong John Hickenlooper was to let Bloomberg force his radical agenda on Colorado.

The biggest loser, as you might have guessed, is probably Hickenlooper – the Democratic incumbent Governor of Colorado (and Beauprez’ opponent this fall) who sided with the majority in the State legislature by signing the three gun control measures into law last year.

Voters responded to that measure by ousting two State Senators in recall votes, and effectively forced the pre-emptive resignation of a third lawmaker who didn’t want the hassle of dealing with a successful recall vote.

HHS Wasted $62 Billion On Fraudulent And Improper Payouts In 2013

Obamacare wasn’t the only thing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was screwing up last year. A Senate report released Wednesday accuses the maligned department with squandering more than $62 billion in fraudulent or improper benefit payments in 2013.

The report, done by the Senate Special Committee on Aging, shows that HHS blew through $62.2 billion in bogus Medicare and Medicaid payouts, comprising 10.1 percent of all benefit payments the department administered in 2013.

That’s an increase from fiscal year 2012, when HHS managed an improper payment rate of 8.5 percent, and represents a backslide from prior years, during which the department had managed to trim the rate of such occurrences.

According to the Government Accountability Office (which considers Medicare a high-risk program because of its propensity for improper spending), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is responsible for the bulk of the mismanagement, paying out about $50 billion in improper benefits last year.

“The improper payment rate rose this year despite multiple efforts by the CMS and its contractors to review claims both before and after payment, and to implement automatic payment rules, or edits, which deny claims that do not comply with Medicare requirements before payment occurs,” the Senate report states. “Industry stakeholders have complained that the CMS’s multiple audits and claims review processes are duplicative and poorly coordinated, placing an undue burden on providers, while doing little to reduce improper payments.”

Indeed, Committee members criticized CMS’s risk management approach, which focuses more on auditing to catch past mistakes instead of preventing them from happening in the first place.

“The increase in audits has not translated into a reduction in improper payments,” said ranking Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine). “In fact, Medicare is currently experiencing its highest improper payment rate in five years.”

The report itself cites an example that has arisen from the implementation of Obamacare, which in the early going has been plagued by technical and administrative mix-ups that leave the door open for improper benefit payments.

“The Affordable Care Act also expanded the RAC [Recovery Audit Contractor] program to Medicaid and began audit processes in some states in 2012,” the report notes:

The American Dental Association (ADA) immediately began to hear concerns from its members and reached out to Members of Congress to call for transparent, fair, consistent and statistically sound audit processes in each state. The ADA’s concerns primarily center around the lack of transparency in the audit process and notification procedures. Additional concerns include the statistical sampling and extrapolation methods used, the qualification of RAC auditors, and the knowledge level of those auditors regarding specific State Medicaid billing regulations.

Audited providers were also concerned that no efforts were made by either CMS or the RACs to education providers or help them learn from overpayment errors in order to avoid future audits and collections. The ADA’s primary concern was that the burdensome and opaque nature of the audit process may cause providers to drop out of the Medicaid program, which already struggles to attract and maintain dental professionals willing to provide critical dental services to Medicaid patients.

In other words, not only is the CMS focus on auditing ineffective at stopping abuse, but it’s also driving dentists away from providing services to people who acquire insurance through Obamacare.

That effectively sabotages Obamacare’s fundamental promise: to offer affordable healthcare coverage to more people and to ensure patients ready access to an adequate array of healthcare provider options.

Young Voters Favor Socially Liberal, Fiscally Conservative Candidates

Young voters who align across the ideological spectrum seem to come together on one thing: most prefer political candidates who are fiscally conservative but socially liberal, despite the fact there aren’t very many Federal-level candidates who fit that description.

A Reason-Rupe survey released Thursday indicates that even though most young Americans who fall within the so-called “millennial” age demographic identify themselves as liberals or moderates, they’re far more likely to favor a conservative approach to fiscal matters. It’s the conservative approach to social issues, though, that seems to be the sticking point.

According to the survey, 53 percent of millennials said they would favor a fiscally conservative/socially liberal candidate, while another 16 percent said they were not sure. Only 31 percent said they would not vote for such a candidate.

Those findings suggest that young people are paying more attention to how politics affects culture — not economics.

“The fact that a socially liberal, fiscally conservative candidate mainly attracts liberals over conservatives indicates that social issues rather than economics largely drive millennials’ political judgments,” wrote pro-libertarian Reason in an accompanying story. “It also suggests millennials are more socially liberal than they are economically liberal.”

As if to drive that point home, the survey indicates that self-identified young conservatives make up the only ideological group in which more people (48 percent) said they would oppose a fiscally conservative, socially liberal candidate than those who said they’d favor such a candidate (43 percent).

Millennials, for the purposes of the survey, are “young Americans aged 18-29 years old.”

Reason also observed that the appeal of a candidate who keeps a tight watch on public funds while adopting a more laissez-faire platform for social issues appears to transcend racial demographics.

In other words, a libertarian-leaning candidate willing to take such a dichotomous approach could find support inside demographic territory traditionally staked out (and taken for granted) by America’s two predominant political parties.

“While partisanship and voting intention often vary by race and ethnicity, this is less so for a libertarian-leaning candidate,” wrote Reason. “Fifty-five percent of both white and Latino millennials would support such a candidate, while 30 percent would oppose. Slightly fewer African-American and Asian American millennials would support the candidate, by a margin of roughly 46 percent in support to 37 percent opposed.”

View the full survey here.

Judge Orders IRS To Swear To An Explanation Of How Lerner’s Emails Disappeared

Only a day before a U.S. District judge will weigh arguments to decide whether to use independent IT experts to track down Lois Lerner’s missing emails, another judge in a separate lawsuit has ordered the IRS to describe, under oath, exactly how those emails turned up missing.

The order, issued by U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan following a hearing today, pertains to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed against the IRS by nonprofit government watchdog Judicial Watch.

The Federal tax collecting agency is also a defendant in a similar lawsuit filed by True the Vote, a Texas-based conservative group that alleges it was among the conservative nonprofits targeted by the IRS for political discrimination ahead of the 2012 Presidential campaign season.

Sullivan’s order today gives the IRS 30 days to assign an agency official to file a declaration that outlines how the emails, long sought after by Congressional investigators as part of a House Oversight inquiry, disappeared from computer hard drives, as well as mail servers, backup systems and possibly even employees’ mobile devices. The IRS official responsible for delivering that declaration will be doing so under oath, as the information contained in the document will be comparable with other forms of sworn testimony.

According to Fox News, Sullivan intentionally worded his instructions to the IRS in broad fashion in order to compel the agency to give a thorough explanation. He also ordered the agency to provide the court with information on how the emails could, at this point, be retrieved.

Judicial Watch had already filed its FOIA suit before the IRS admitted to Congress last month that it had essentially been sitting on the knowledge that the emails had disappeared. Tom Fitton, president of the organization, said today the IRS intentionally failed to act properly as a defendant in the case by withholding that knowledge from both Judicial Watch and the court itself.

“In our view, there has been a cover-up that has been going on. The Department of Justice; the IRS, had an obligation, an absolute obligation … to alert the court and alert Judicial Watch as soon as they knew when these records were supposedly lost,” Fitton said.

On Friday, the IRS will argue in the True the Vote case against a potential court order that could authorize outside technical experts to verify the truth of the agency’s claim that the emails are, in fact, irrevocably lost. You can read more about that case here.

Obama Clip: ‘I’m Just Telling The Truth Now’ Because I Don’t Have To Worry About Lying To Get Elected

Noted funnyman and U.S. President Barack Obama reverted to “telling the truth” in Austin, Texas today, informing a crowd of easily-amused young people (judging from the backdrop in this video) that he could finally relax on all the lying because he doesn’t have to worry about campaigning – or all the lying that accompanies it – anymore.

“I – I – I … I’m just telling the truth now. I don’t have to run for office again, so I can, just, you know, let ‘er rip,” Obama kidded.

He had to have been joking, right? Because he’s still lying about stuff, just like any other time.

On Wednesday – the day before this video clip was recorded – he lied about his disdain for staged publicity photos, telling the press that he would not accept Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry’s invitation to tour the U.S.-Mexico border zone because, as he put it, “I’m not interested in photo ops.”

“There is nothing that is taking place down there that I am not intimately aware of and briefed on,” said Obama. “This isn’t theater. This is a problem. I’m not interested in photo ops. I’m interested in solving a problem.”

Some of those statements may have been true, maybe. But not the one about being interested in photo ops. Breitbart picked up the gauntlet today and came up with this entertaining photo montage featuring 35 times the President has demonstrated that he is, indeed, interested in photo ops.

Too bad the guys at Breitbart don’t have extra hours in their day, or their list would undoubtedly have been a lot longer.

H/T: The Washington Free Beacon

Maryland Hospital Bans Employees From Smoking And Vaping — Even When They’re At Home

Being a smoker, vaper, tobacco dipper or user of any other form of nicotine delivery will soon be enough to automatically disqualify applicants who seek any kind of employment at one Maryland hospital.

And it won’t matter whether the would-be employees confine their nicotine indulgence to their private hours away from work, either. If an applicant uses any tobacco or nicotine-delivery products, at any time, he might as well toss his application in the trash.

According to The Baltimore Sun, Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis has revised its hiring policy to forbid tobacco use among its future employees, “whether as a surgeon or security guard,” as the paper observes.

The new rule takes effect beginning July 2015. Current hospital employees who smoke are grandfathered in and won’t be affected by the new rule.

While the new policy is generating a lot of headlines, it doesn’t follow close on the heels of some recent innovation to existing law. In fact, as the Sun reports, telling your employees they can’t smoke — ever — is already legal in many States. In Anne Arundel’s case, the burden of proof lies not with the hospital, but with the prospective employee, who must pass a urine test that screens for the presence of (legal) nicotine, as well as the usual batch of illegal substances.

Like most nanny policies, promulgators of the ban attribute the heavy-handedness to well-intentioned altruism. They only want what’s best for you:

Hospital representatives, who say their primary mission is “living healthier together,” say the new rules grew out of two years of researching ways to prevent tobacco-related diseases — and hearing out those who questioned the policy’s fairness and legality. The hospital hopes that health care costs will decrease over the long term, but that was not the primary driver, said Julie McGovern, the center’s vice president of human resources.

“We’re doing this to improve the health status of our community,” McGovern said. “It’s a serious obligation we have … and one of the important steps we can take to be a role model.”

Incredibly, the policy extends even to users of tobacco-free, combustion-free vaporizers — products that offer users the option of inhaling nicotine or of going completely nicotine-free, while positing none of the health risks of secondhand smoke.

Anne Arundel is not the first hospital to enact a ban on new employees’ use of tobacco. And as the article observes, such policies aren’t exclusive to employers in the healthcare field: “Other employers with such hiring bans include Scotts Miracle-Gro and Alaska Airlines.”

So far, no employer that has enjoined its workers from using tobacco has faced a significant legal challenge — although critics argue that it’s a discriminatory practice, one that dictates which legal activities employees can pursue in their personal lives.

New Info Suggests Lois Lerner Knew Of; Feared Congress’ Subpoena Power Over IRS Communications

Judging by the contents of a newly-released email written in 2013 by Lois Lerner, the former IRS exempt organizations director understood – and feared – the possibility that Congress might one day exercise its power to peruse the agency’s electronic communications.

It’s an amazing coincidence, then, that both the paper and the digital versions of those communications are missing now.

The House Oversight Committee, which is investigating the IRS scandal involving the discriminatory targeting of conservative organizations, finally obtained the 2013 email last week and released it today via its website, following a hearing with IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.

Koskinen told the panel he’d never seen the email in question.

The contents are revealing. Lerner asked Maria Hooke, an IRS tech employee, along with another exempt organizations employee whether communications conducted via a Microsoft messaging system were searchable:

I had a question today about OCS [Microsoft Office Communications Server]. I was cautioning folks about email and how we have several occasions where Congress has asked for emails and there has been an electronic search for responsive emails – so we need to be cautious about what we say in emails. Someone asked if OCS conversations were also searchable – I don’t know, but told them I would get back to them. Do you know?

One can only speculate whom Lerner was talking about when she stated she “had a question today.”

The Oversight Committee flatly accuses Lerner of “leading an IRS effort to hide information from Congressional inquiries.”

“In e-mails withheld from the Committee until only last week, Lerner was apparently concerned that IRS conversations taking place within the agency’s instant messenger program could end up in the hands of Congress along with requested e-mails,” the Committee website asserts. “An IRS technology employees responded that ‘OCS messages are not set to automatically save’ but cautioned that ‘parties involved in an OCS conversation can copy and save the contents of the conversation to an email or file.’ Lerner responded, ‘Perfect.’”

That conversation took place less than two weeks after an IRS Inspector General’s preliminary report first accused the agency of discriminatory targeting of conservative groups. Lerner would later “break” news of that report, the Committee noted, by fielding a staged question during a meeting of tax lawyers before the American Bar Association.

Dozens Of Media Outlets Call On Obama To Stop Stifling Free Expression

A consortium of 38 media agencies and transparency advocates sent a searing letter to President Barack Obama on Tuesday, urging the Most Transparent Administration in history to “stop the spin and let the sunshine in.”

The group, led by the Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ), highlighted a pattern of stonewalling, attempts at media manipulation and control, and restricted access – all of which, the letter accuses, amounts to “a form of censorship.”

The group cites numerous specific examples of the ways in which the Obama Administration either can’t be bothered to speak to journalists in the field, or forces reporters to obtain the equivalent of a White House permission slip to simply speak to Federal employees and administrators on the public payroll. And, the group asserts, it’s all politically calculated.

There’s the Reuters reporter who couldn’t get the EPA’s public affairs office (yes, the public affairs office) to talk to him about climate change. Or the New York Times story that had to run without comments from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), even though it was about a major CMS rules change that shuffles and expands the nomenclature of medical classifications both in the U.S. and throughout the world. Or the “dozens of instances” in which the Veterans Administration, before the public ever knew about its patient-delay abuses, had failed to respond to reporters seeking information on multiple topics.

It’s an extremely long list.

The group holds Obama squarely accountable for choking out the freedom of the press. “You recently expressed concern that frustration in the country is breeding cynicism about democratic government,” it reads. “You need look no further than your own administration for a major source of that frustration – politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies. We call on you to take a stand to stop the spin and let the sunshine in.”

Here’s more:

Over the past two decades, public agencies have increasingly prohibited staff from communicating with journalists unless they go through public affairs offices or through political appointees. This trend has been especially pronounced in the federal government. We consider these restrictions a form of censorship — an attempt to control what the public is allowed to see and hear.

The stifling of free expression is happening despite your pledge on your first day in office to bring “a new era of openness” to federal government – and the subsequent executive orders and directives which were supposed to bring such openness about.

…It has not always been this way. In prior years, reporters walked the halls of agencies and called staff people at will. Only in the past two administrations have media access controls been tightened at most agencies. Under this administration, even non-defense agencies have asserted in writing their power to prohibit contact with journalists without surveillance. Meanwhile, agency personnel are free speak to others — lobbyists, special-interest representatives, people with money — without these controls and without public oversight.

…We ask that you issue a clear directive telling federal employees they’re not only free to answer questions from reporters and the public, but actually encouraged to do so.

You can read the full letter, as well as a listing of the many frustrated media entities that signed it, at the SPJ’s website.

 

Gun Control Group Sues Kansas Over Federal Nullification Law

Last April, the State of Kansas passed a law negating Federal gun control regulations. It drew the ire of Attorney General Eric Holder, who promptly informed Republican Governor Sam Brownback that the State law was unConstitional under the Supremacy Clause.

So far, the Department of Justice hasn’t taken up a case against the State to back up Holder’s claim. But the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has just filed a lawsuit to have the nullification law overturned, arguing Holder’s case for him: that the Supremacy Clause trumps a State’s power to criminalize Federal law.

The lawsuit, filed today, names Brownback and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt as defendants. It argues that courts, not States, are tasked with interpreting the Constitutionality of laws that limit the 2nd Amendment, and that “federal courts…have made clear that the Second Amendment allows for reasonable firearms regulations, confirming the constitutionality of virtually all, if not all, existing and proposed federal firearms laws.”

Kansas’ law provides for the felony prosecution of any law enforcement agent – Federal, State or local – who attempts to enforce Federal gun regulations involving firearms made, sold and owned exclusively in the State. In April of this year, Brownback signed a companion piece of legislation that prohibits local governments in Kansas from regulating firearms at all.

The Brady Center targets only the Federal nullification law, and parrots Holder’s strategy in arguing for its abolition.

In assessing the merits of Holder’s letter to Brownback last year, the Tenth Amendment Center argued:

1. Kansas is NOT purporting to criminalize the exercise of constitutional federal responsibilities. On the contrary, the bill criminalizes what the state has determined is unconstitutional. It is the position that such federal acts are indeed a violation of the Constitution. No matter how much Eric might believe it to be otherwise, his view is obviously not universal – especially in Kansas.

2. The Supremacy Clause. Holder takes the position that all tyrants do – that everything they do is authorized, anything to the contrary – worthless. But Holder is wrong. The Supremacy Clause doesn’t say that “any law in conflict with federal law” is void. It says that only those laws “in pursuance” of the constitution are supreme. The new Kansas legislation, again, takes the position that such federal acts are not constitutional, and therefore not supreme.

…Even with almost full state and local cooperation, there are now 18 states defying DC on marijuana prohibition. As two states – Washington and Colorado – legalize what the feds say is illegal, we’re watching the beginning of the end of federal dominance over the states.

On the right to keep and bear arms, people should follow the same path. Just say NO to Washington DC, and YES to liberty.

Feds Report Historically High Proportion Of U.S. Population Is Now On Welfare

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released its annual report to Congress on Welfare Indicators and Risk Factors, and in its 165 pages is the revelation that more people, as a percentage of the population, are now on welfare than at any time since the department began tracking the figure.

The most recent completed year for which HHS has compiled statistics is 2011. HHS has been keeping track of the welfare-receiving proportion of the overall population since 1993.

A number of entitlements combine to form the government benefits HHS recognizes as “welfare,” including foods stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), short-term supplemental family income (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF) and low-income stipends (Supplemental Security Income, or SSI).

In 2011, nearly one-fourth of the U.S. population received one or more of these benefits.

Here’s how HHS explains the figure:

In 2011, 23.1 percent of the total population received or lived with a family member who received a benefit of any amount from TANF, SNAP, or SSI at some point during the year (see Table SUM 1). While falling steadily between 1993 – 2000, this annual recipiency rate began to increase after 2000, and increased more rapidly during and in the immediate aftermath of the “Great Recession.” The 2011 rate is slightly higher than the 2010 rate, reflecting increased participation in the SNAP and SSI programs.

HHS goes on to blame the economy, noting the post-2000 increase correlates “with worsening economic conditions.”

The food stamp program in particular has seen an enormous expansion. “Average monthly SNAP participation was 44.7 million persons in fiscal year 2011, excluding the participants in Puerto Rico’s block grant,” HHS reported. “This represents a significant increase over the fiscal year 2000 record-low average of 17.2 million participants and exceeds the previous peak of 27.5 million recipients in fiscal year 1994.”

In addition, there are far more children on food stamps than any other age demographic. In 2000, 19.8 percent of children age 5 or younger were on food stamps. By 2011, that figure had nearly doubled, rising to 38 percent.

Will More States Parrot Connecticut’s Gun Seizure Law?

In States led by elected officials who view violent crime as a problem that can be mitigated by limiting citizens’ access to guns, one preventive “solution” to head off sensational mass shootings may be to emulate a longstanding Connecticut law that provides for the confiscation of firearms under certain circumstances.

In 1999, Connecticut passed a law that allows a judge to order the “temporary” seizure of a citizen’s firearms if law enforcement can persuade the court that the subject represents a danger to himself and/or others. A seizure must be followed, within 14 days, by a hearing to determine whether the subject can have his firearms immediately returned. If the court finds against the subject, then the State is authorized to hold on to the guns for a year.

Now left-leaning State officials in California and New Jersey, horrified at the most recent spate of mass shootings to grip the 24-hour news cycle, aim to enact their own versions of the seizure law — in the professed belief that having a new legal mechanism to take someone’s guns away will pre-empt such crimes.

California’s AB-1014, which is in the markup phase of its move through the Senate, would create a procedure for the State to obtain a “gun violence restraining order” to seize the weapons of any person a judge deems to be a threat:

This bill would authorize a court to issue an emergency gun violence restraining order if a law enforcement officer asserts and a judicial officer finds that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the subject of the petition poses an immediate and present danger of causing personal injury to himself, herself, or another by having under his or her custody and control, owning, purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm and that the order is necessary to prevent personal injury to himself, herself, or another person, as specified. The bill would require a law enforcement officer to serve the order on the restrained person, if the restrained person can reasonably be located, file a copy of the order with the court, and have the order entered into the computer database system for protective and restraining orders maintained by the Department of Justice. The bill would require the presiding judge of the superior court in each county to designate at least one judge, commissioner, or referee to be reasonably available to issue orally, by telephone or otherwise, emergency gun violence restraining orders at all times whether or not the court is in session.

Aside from forever branding the subject of such an order by tracking him in a database, as well as the law’s abundant potential for abuse, the bill also makes further provisions for renewing the no-guns order on a year-to-year basis. It further places the burden of proof to break that cycle not on the State, but on the targeted citizen:

The bill would authorized [sic] the renewal of the order for additional one-year periods and would permit the restrained person to request one hearing to terminate the order during the effective period of the initial order or each renewal period.

Get caught with a gun while you’re under a “gun violence restraining order,” and you get your guns taken away for five years.

New Jersey State Senator Richard Codey, a Democrat, is behind a similar measure in the Garden State. You can read more on Codey’s confiscation push here.

Palin Versus Buchanan: To Impeach Obama… Or Not?

Sarah Palin torched President Barack Obama this week in an opinion piece in which she argued the time has come for the House of Representatives to draft articles of impeachment against him. Her ideology may be sound, but there are other conservative voices who believe that the GOP — and the Nation — have more to gain by watching Obama go down, slowly, in his own ship.

Writing for Breitbart Tuesday, Palin cited the ongoing border crisis as she made a passionate case for impeachment:

Because of Obama’s purposeful dereliction of duty an untold number of illegal immigrants will kick off their shoes and come on in, competing against Americans for our jobs and limited public services. There is no end in sight as our president prioritizes parties over doing the job he was hired by voters to do. Securing our borders is obviously fundamental here; it goes without saying that it is his job.

…His friendly wealthy bipartisan elite, who want cheap foreign labor and can afford for themselves the best “border security” money can buy in their own exclusive communities, do not care that Obama tapped us out.

Have faith that average American workers – native-born and wonderful legal immigrants of all races, backgrounds, and political parties – do care because we’re the ones getting screwed as we’re forced to follow all our government’s rules while others are not required to do so. Many now feel like strangers in their own land.

…President Obama’s rewarding of lawlessness, including his own, is the foundational problem here. It’s not going to get better, and in fact irreparable harm can be done in this lame-duck term as he continues to make up his own laws as he goes along, and, mark my words, will next meddle in the U.S. Court System with appointments that will forever change the basic interpretation of our Constitution’s role in protecting our rights.

It’s time to impeach; and on behalf of American workers and legal immigrants of all backgrounds, we should vehemently oppose any politician on the left or right who would hesitate in voting for articles of impeachment.

You can read Palin’s full piece at Breitbart.

While Palin’s ideological basis for impeachment may be sound, not all conservative voices believe impeachment is the right approach. Pat Buchanan, who fundamentally agrees with Palin that Obama has done, and continues to do, impeachable things, argues that proving his offenses would become a protracted and creepingly unpopular process that would drain Republicans’ steadily accruing political capital. Besides, he argued, the political climate strongly favors letting things just play out as this year’s election cycle — as well as the Presidential election of 2016 — approaches.

In an opinion piece for WND on Monday, Buchanan made the pragmatist’s case against impeachment — an extreme measure he described as “a bridge too far”:

Democrats are talking impeachment to rally a lethargic base to come out and vote this fall to prevent Republicans from taking control of the Senate, and with it the power to convict an impeached president.

Still, Republicans should drop the talk of impeachment.

For the GOP would gain nothing and risk everything if the people began to take seriously their threats to do to Barack Obama what Newt Gingrich’s House did to Bill Clinton.

The charges for which a president can be impeached and removed from office are “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

With Bill Clinton, the impeachers had a solid case of perjury.

With Richard Nixon, they had a preponderance of evidence that, at least for a time, he had sought to obstruct justice in the investigation of the Watergate break-in.

Concerning Obama’s “I was the last to know” pattern of excuse-making to explain his role in the many scandals under his watch, Robertson says there’s not much to be gained by impeachment-minded Republicans, who would be risking a dramatic swing in the momentum they’ve gained in public opinion, which already has come to regard Obama as an ineffective bungler:

Obama claims he did not learn of the IRS abuse until years after it began, and weeks after his White House staff learned of it.

In the absence of those emails, the claim cannot be refuted.

In the Benghazi scandal, the president’s defense is the same.

He had no idea what was going on. And cluelessness appears here to be a credible defense. Two weeks after the Benghazi atrocity, Obama was at the U.N. still parroting the Susan Rice line about an anti-Muslim video having been the cause of it all.

…Any Republican attempt at impeachment would go up against a stacked deck. And the GOP would be throwing away a winning hand for a losing one.

For while the American people have shown no interest in impeaching Obama, they are coming to believe they elected an incompetent executive and compulsive speechmaker who does not know what the presidency requires and who equates talk with action.

Buchanan’s full piece is online at WND.

Who’s right? Are Obama’s offenses against his Constitutional oath so egregious that Republicans should summon the zeal — at any political cost — to follow through with impeachment (especially if they retake the Senate in November)? Or should they sit back, confident and self-assured that the remainder of his Presidency will implode, to their benefit, without irrevocable harm to the Nation?

Or is all this talk of impeachment among conservatives nothing more than news fodder and gamesmanship, what Buchanan himself described as “just beer talk?”

Bloomberg Group Plans To Question Every Federal Candidate On Gun Views

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun control group – currently operating under the new name Everytown for Gun Safety – has announced it intends to survey every candidate running for a Federal seat in this year’s midterm elections to suss out their stance on – what else? – gun control.

The effort represents Everytown’s response strategy to its vastly more powerful and more popular ideological arch-nemisis: the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA grades legislators on the familiar A-F scale to convey to voters a sense of candidates’ commitment to the 2nd Amendment.

Everytown has decided to go the questionnaire route, although the questions the group is posing – “Do you agree: we can both do more to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and protect the rights of responsible, law-abiding people?” – are so fraught with leading assumptions they might as well answer themselves.

Some of these questions get lengthy, but here’s a sample – a question about expanding the State’s confiscatory powers:

Federal law prohibits anyone from having firearms if they have been convicted of abusing their spouses, or if they are the subjects of active restraining orders taken out by their spouses, but not if they have been convicted of stalking or have been convicted of abusing their dating partners. The share of intimate partner violence that occurs in dating relationships has been steadily growing – and as of 2008, more domestic violence homicides were committed by dating partners than by spouses. Do you support a law that would prohibit gun possession by convicted stalkers and people convicted of – or, who after due process, are actively restrained from – abusing a dating partner?

You can see a more concise version of the questionnaire, which you can also take for yourself (fun!), here.

The NRA told The Washington Post that Everytown, which expects to spend $40 million of Bloomberg’s money per year on gun control lobbying and PR, is wasting money – and time.

“Money cannot buy the hearts and minds of the American people when it comes to the Second Amendment,” said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam. “Michael Bloomberg is just the latest incarnation of a long line of anti-freedom billionaires who’ve tried to take on the National Rifle Association.”

On the paper version of the questionnaire, Everytown is giving candidates a space to clarify their views on gun control, in their own words. We’re holding out to see whether 2nd Amendment stalwarts like Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) take the boring path simply by choosing not to respond to the questionnaire, or whether they’ll make things interesting (and grab some free publicity in the process) by getting creative with their answers.

Feds Sue Another State Over Its Voter ID Laws

A Federal lawsuit against North Carolina’s recently approved voter ID law has the State delaying its implementation until a judge decides whether it can begin enforcing the law while the lawsuit is in process.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against the State after it passed the law, which requires voters to show a recognized form of photo identification and prohibits same-day voter registration, last year.

Attorney General Eric Holder called North Carolina’s law an “extremely aggressive” attempt to disenfranchise black voters — despite the fact that States that have conducted elections with the new laws in place report a dramatic surge in the number of blacks who participate in elections since the voter ID component was added.

“The state legislature took extremely aggressive steps to curtail the voting rights of African-Americans,” Holder said Monday. “This is an intentional step to break a system that was working and it defies common sense.”

Voter ID laws vary among the 31 States where they’ve survived court challenges and gone into effect, but there’s not a great deal of difference between North Carolina’s voter ID law and the others.

In addition to the photo ID requirement and the same-day registration ban, the law also ends straight-party voting, provides for more poll watchers at local precincts, abolishes the option to donate to political parties on State tax returns and ends the practice of allowing people as young as 16 to “pre-register” to vote.

A May Fox News poll found that 51 percent of black voters support voter ID laws, while 46 percent oppose them.

Employers Pessimistic About Obamacare’s Effect On The Bottom Line

An overwhelming majority of employers are reporting that Obamacare will force their healthcare-related costs to rise this year, and they fully expect 2015 to be even worse.

That’s the takeaway from the latest employer survey conducted by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, which released its report Monday. The survey’s findings are based on the input of 691 human resources and benefits specialists nationwide, as well as their employers, from a questionnaire the foundation sent out in April.

“Among all organizations, nearly nine in ten [88.2 percent] expect the law will increase their organizations’ health care costs this year,” the report concludes. “One in four estimates a cost increase of 1% to 2%, and a similar proportion predicts an increase of 3% to 4%. One in seven organizations estimates a cost increase greater than 10%. The median cost increase is 4% among organizations that know their exact 2014 cost change due to ACA.”

In addition, the cost of accommodating Obamacare is “hitting small employers much harder than large ones,” the study finds.

While large companies have been able to absorb increased healthcare costs without resorting to widespread layoffs, smaller businesses have had to make harder choices. About 1 in 6 small businesses (those with 50 or fewer employees) has trimmed its workforce, while 10 percent have mitigated costs through a combination of trimming hours worked, freezing wages and/or forgoing the hiring of new staff.

The survey found that 68 percent of large-scale employers (those employing 50 or more people) expect to continue providing health insurance for full-time employees when Obamacare’s “play or pay” penalty provision employers kicks in at the start of next year. Among small businesses, that number drops to 59 percent. However, the uncertainty about continuing healthcare coverage increases when employers are asked to think five years into the future.

Employers of all sizes demonstrate “some uncertainty regarding employer-sponsored coverage five years from now,” as “most organizations say they…somewhat likely (20.7%), very likely (51%) or definitely (22.1%)” will continue to offer coverage.

KISS’ Gene Simmons: ‘I Don’t Remember The Last Poor Person Who Gave Me A Job’

Shout it out loud: Kiss frontman Gene Simmons isn’t burdened with the phony altruism of rich-guy guilt.

Simmons told an interviewer for a California newspaper late last week that it’s ridiculous to resent those who create wealth, because they provide the foundation on which America’s economy – both private and public – is based.

“I have been part of the 1 percent for the past 30 years,” Simmons told U-T San Diego. Asked how it feels to be a part of the Nation’s wealthiest demographic, Simmons replied:

It’s fantastic! …The 1 percent pays 80 percent of all taxes. Fifty percent of the population of the U.S. pays no taxes. The 1 percent provides all the jobs for everybody else. If the 1 percent didn’t exist, there would be chaos and the American economy would drop dead. Try being nice to rich people. I don’t remember the last poor person who gave me a job.

Simmons immigrated to the U.S. with his mother, whose family had died during the Holocaust, from Israel when he was eight years old. His mother was a Hungarian Jew and his father, who left the family when Simmons was still young, was Israeli. He learned English quickly, and now is a strong believer in cultural assimilation.

“America is astonishing because it welcomes immigrants and gives them all the rights that native sons and daughters have … all the opportunities someone who was here for generations has had. For that, I’ll be forever grateful,” he told U-T San Diego:

Every day, people complain about the Kardashians, or about having a bad hair day — which, in my case, is every day — or the Republicans, or the Democrats. Well, you have to shut the [expletive] up! You have nothing to complain about. In America, you have the right to say and do as you please. You can demonstrate and do anything you want, and you have [more] opportunities than anyone in the history of this planet has had.

If all that makes too much sense for you, Simmons also offered his take on political correctness, which successfully accomplishes, through culture, the stifling of truly free speech in the very land that first codified it as an inalienable right.

“Others simply hold their opinions to themselves and never say who they are. You will always know who I am. You don’t have to like it; that’s OK if you don’t.”

Lick that up.

Read the full interview here.

Former Ally In The School Nutrition Campaign Flips On Michelle Obama

Whatever goodwill first lady Michelle Obama had fostered back when her school nutrition plan was just a feel-good idea has eroded as the law it spawned – the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 – has been enacted, often to a scornful reception, across the country.

Now one of the law’s main advocates has reversed its position on the law’s school lunch provisions by prevailing upon Congress to tweak the law so that students will have more food choices and school systems won’t lose money. The School Nutrition Association (SNA), which at first hailed the law, before observing how it affected school districts’ finances and students’ appetites, has come full circle.

According to EAG News – the advocacy publication for the nonpartisan Education Action Group Foundation, SNA, “which initially championed the new federal lunch standards on fruits, vegetables, salt, fat, sugar and virtually every other aspect of school lunches when they were implemented in 2012,” is lobbying for significant changes. Those who side with Obama accuse the organization of listening to attentively to the desires – and the contributions – of food vendors whose sales have taken a hit as kids pan school lunches, and as school systems order smaller portions to comply with the new standards.

“SNA critics contend the group sold out to big food companies that don’t like the ‘healthy’ lunch overhaul, but what they don’t discuss is the overwhelming evidence that many parents and school nutrition experts also dislike the new rules,” EAG wrote.

“Many student athletes, for example, have argued their limited-calorie lunches leave them famished. Parents have reported their children are now going without school lunch, then binge eating when they get home. Parents have also complained about ridiculously strict interpretations of the federal lunch rules, which have resulted in a ban on birthday cupcakes in classrooms, among other things.”

SNA wrote to Ms. Obama last month to request a meeting to address the organization’s concerns; that meeting will take place on July 10. In the meantime, an effort to grant school districts a one-year reprieve from the nutrition standards is making its way through the House.

Americans Finger Obama As Worst President In 70 Years

According to a new poll from Quinnipiac University, more Americans identify President Barack Obama as the worst occupant of the Oval Office since World War II than any other postwar President, including President Richard Nixon.

The poll, released Thursday, found 33 percent of U.S. voters identifying Obama as the worst President, followed by President George W. Bush (28 percent) and Nixon (13 percent). Every other President garnered “worst” votes in the single-digit percentages, led by President Jimmy Carter at 8 percent.

Of course, living memory and present-day partisanship play a role in producing these kinds of numbers: while Obama’s “worst President” numbers were truly brutal, he also managed to garner a surprising number of “best President” votes in a poll that ultimately found him first among the worst. Obama came in fourth in polling of best postwar Presidents — a list topped by President Ronald Reagan (35 percent), President Bill Clinton (18 percent) and President John F. Kennedy (15 percent).

Obama received “best” votes from 8 percent of poll participants. Among Democrats, he came in a distant second to Clinton as their choice of “best” President, collecting 18 percent compared with Clinton’s 34 percent.

Voters remain evenly divided on the matter of whether Obama is a worse President than his immediate predecessor. The question “Do you think Barack Obama has been a better President than George W. Bush, worse, or about the same as President Bush?” elicited a nearly even split, with 40 percent answering that Obama is worse, 39 percent maintaining that Bush was worse and another 20 percent indicating the two leaders’ legacies have been about the same.

Even though Obama won a second term in office, the poll finds that voters may be pining for the alternate version of history that might have unfolded had the Republican candidate he defeated, Mitt Romney, been elected President instead.

“America would be better off if Republican Mitt Romney had won the 2012 presidential election, 45 percent of voters say, while 38 percent say the country would be worse off,” the poll summary observes.

Most of the nostalgia for Romney falls along predictable party lines, with 84 percent of Republicans indicating the Nation would have been better off had he been elected President. Only 10 percent of Democrats, on the other hand, agreed. Interestingly, Independent voters favored a do-over with Romney as President by a 47 percent to 33 percent margin.

House GOP Slams CFPB Headquarters Renovation Costing More, Per Square Foot, Than Trump Tower

The ballooning cost of the renovation for the headquarters of the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was the target of angry criticism from Republican lawmakers this week, who observed that the lavish project is on track to cost significantly more per square foot than new-construction private projects like New York’s Trump Tower and Las Vegas’ Bellagio.

“You are spending more per square foot than the Trump World Tower” Congressman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) told CFPB director Richard Cordray at a hearing for the House Committee on Financial Services. “You are spending more than the Bellagio Hotel and Casino.”

Evidently, Hensarling’s not exaggerating. The Hill reported the CFPB renovation’s per-square-foot cost of more than $590 to be far in excess of “Trump World Tower in New York ($334) and Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas ($330).”

The still-young CFPB, created in 2010 as part of the sweeping Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, has so far committed somewhere between $114 million and $145 million to the renovation, a sum that’s “nearly as much as the building is worth,” according to the Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard. The total project cost is expected to hit at least $215 million.

Plans for the project include a rooftop play area for kids, a four-story glass staircase, a sunken garden and a two-story waterfall — all features that gave House Republicans ample fodder with which to excoriate the agency.

“The cost of renovating the CFPB’s rented headquarters has spiraled to more than $215 million — $65 million more than the agency’s estimate just six months ago and $120 million more than last year’s estimate, according to the Federal Reserve’s Inspector General,” House Republicans said in a statement this week.

“The continuously growing price tag is a tremendous waste of funds and, amazingly, there is still no assurance the $215 million price tag won’t grow higher,” added Congressman Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.).

Hensarling decried the Federal agency’s apparent autonomy from fiscal checks and balances.

“When they passed the Dodd-Frank Act, Democrats in Congress and the White House made the CFPB unaccountable to taxpayers and to Congress. We’re seeing the results of this dangerous unaccountability today in a Washington bureaucracy that is running amok, spending as much as it wants on whatever it wants. It’s outrageous,” he wrote in the GOP statement.

McHenry, who chairs the House Financial Services subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, requested an inspector general’s report on the runaway project in January; the results of that endeavor can be viewed here.

The Obama Pattern: Workforce Shrinks, So Unemployment Drops

We write these stories just about every month: the Administration of President Barack Obama finds the silver lining in a dismal monthly jobs report by focusing on a happy-sounding number while ignoring the broader, disturbing trend.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its June employment figures this week, and the unemployment rate has dropped. Yet, like clockwork, that statistic has been accompanied by another — one that’s far more indicative of the health of the U.S. labor force. It’s not so much that more people are getting jobs; it’s that fewer people are looking for them.

The total number of people who are seeking employment has been decimated in the Obama recovery, with a record-breaking 92,120,000 Americans who, by the BLS’s definition, have dropped out of the labor force. That leaves the participation rate among working-age Americans stranded, for yet another month, at the lowest level it’s seen in four decades: 62.8 percent. The figure reflects a one-month increase in dropouts from the labor force of 111,000.

The BLS considers Americans age 16 and older who have not sought employment in the past four weeks, during any period, to have dropped out of the labor force for that period.

Obama touted what good news there was to be gleaned from the June report, the addition of 288,000 jobs (or 177,000 jobs, if you factor in the dropouts), saying the U.S. has “not seen more consistent job growth since the ’90s.”

But there’s also this: “At no time during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, did such a small percentage of the civilian non-institutional population either hold a job or at least actively seek one,” observed CNS News in its report on the data.

There are about 314 million people living in the U.S., and some 268 million of them are of working age. But of that 268 million, there are 92,120,000 who aren’t actively looking for work. That’s a ratio of 34.4 percent non-employment — a condition in which more than one-third of people who are able to work not only aren’t working, but they either aren’t trying to find a job or they’ve simply given up.